Actor Stephen Dorff's TV commercial for e-cigaratte brand Blu, acquired by Lorillard for a reputed $135 million in 2012, is typical of the new "rebel-without the consequences" cigarette smoker theme being used in TV commercials by e-cigarettes manufacturers.
Addiction (and cred) without the consequences
On Saturday night at a pink-lit bar in New York's Lower East Side, the musician Aaron David Ross took a moment away from DJing his own party to evangelize a bit.
Between vaporous pulls of a dual-coil atomizer, Ross said.
"Look, I'm like the vegetarian that won't leave you alone. Cigarettes are terrible for you."
Ross, who makes records under the name ADR and is one-half of the industrial duo Gatekeeper, held up his personal vaporizer. Cylindrical and silver, it looked much more like an expensive piece of jewelry than a replacement for "analog" or traditional cigarettes, a stark contrast to the tobacco-aping NJOYs whose recent advertising campaign has focused on their ability to "look, taste, and feel just like a real cigarette."
Ross and his friends, some wearing chains and black fitted caps, exhaled more odorless smoke than seemed reasonable for a human lung to hold. They looked pretty cool, which is a feat — a friend of Ross', Mat Dryhurst, had earlier relayed that when he started vaping,
"My wife said she wouldn't have sex with me if I did this in public."
Ross turned back to his laptop, where he was playing an FKA Twigs track to celebrate his new mixtape, Cloud Chasing Vol. 1. It's ostensibly the "first collection of music for vapers, by vapers," and it was compiled by Ross and some of his e-cig enthusiast friends in honor of a symposium held at the art and technology center Rhizome this past weekend. By inviting a group of artists, academics, and enthusiasts to speak on the subject of the e-cigarette, Rhizome hoped to learn "what it means to ‘vape.'"
They couldn't have scheduled the panels for a better time: as recently as a few years ago, e-cigarette smoking was a relatively obscure habit. But with the industry still largely unregulated and projected to rake in a reported $1.5 billion in sales this year, the e-cig market has grown into a multi-tentacled beast. Just as the largely forum-based DIY "modding" scene gains serious traction, legislation is on the horizon for 2014. Meanwhile Big Tobacco, thanks to new lines of electronic products, has the opportunity to hawk its wares on television for the first time in 40 years. This is the Wild West of the Electronic Nicotine Delivery Device (ENDD), and it may not last very much longer in its current form.
And so the panel, on which Ross and Dryhurst both spoke, was cheekily called "This is the ENDD." The event largely cast the e-cig debate's usual suspects — economic, health, and legislative issues — as the background to a number of cultural shifts. Which, because of the world we live in, largely came down to the way e-cigarettes have been marketed.
The e-cigarette industry has spent vast amounts of money and time making a once-dorky and counterintuitive idea — sucking on a metal device filled with nicotine juice and some of the same chemicals used in smoke machines — look desirable, fun, and edgy. This year at CES, Vapor Corp. hosted a party on the pool deck of the Marquee with plexiglass jacuzzis; as one of Rhizome's panelists pointed out, NJOY invited "influencers" to party with e-cigs in hand at the posh Jane Hotel last year, before New York City's former mayor, Michael Bloomberg, banned public indoor vaping.
Now, Courtney Love stars in an e-cig commercial ("Relax, It's a f**cking NJOY") and Stephen Dorff strikes rugged poses as a modern-day Marlboro Man for Blu, a brand that was acquired in 2012 for $135 million by Lorilard, one of the Big Three "analog" tobacco companies.
Health researcher and panelist CAB Fredericks notes Blu has even taken the recent indoor e-cig bans in select states as ammunition for those marketing campaigns, encouraging Blu customers to "fight back" against the man.
If some large e-cig companies like NJOY and Blu have rested their cred largely on the dont-tread-on-me, rebel-without-the-consequences feeling of retro Marlboro and Lucky Strike ads, others like the Reynolds-owned Vuse have churned out marketing materials that make their e-cigs sound less like smokes and more like iPads, with TV spots obliquely announcing "dreams, opportunities, the promise of new things to come."
According to Orit Gat, an art critic and Rhizome contributor, the schism between e-cigs marketed like gadgets and those marketed like cigarettes may be because "we're in a particular moment" in the development of the e-cigarette; "We're still not sure what they are," she said during her presentation, "or what we're supposed to do with them."
Gat, having recently spent time in Provence, France, flipped through slides of two smalle-clopinettes, small storefronts in which locals were encouraged to try the latest in e-cig technology. A sign above the display read, in French, "technology meets elegance." White-walled and minimalist, with battery packs and slim e-cigs displayed on a wall behind glass, the shops looked more like Apple Stores than smoke shops.
Her next set of slides, however, showed The Henley Vaporium in Nolita, where available e-cig flavors were written on a chalkboard pinned to an exposed brick wall. There, "vaporists" help you "hack" your e-cigs — "Whatever that means," Gat quipped — in a shop that shares more DNA with an artisinal coffee house than a hyper-clean technology store. She said.
"The closer we get to e-cigs, the closer it is to a Whole Foods than an Apple Store."
For Dryhurst, the idea of the e-cig as a lifestyle brand originates a bit closer to home. When he switched from regular cigarettes to e-cigs, he says he realized he'd have to go all the way to fully commit — he had to make his new device part of his "look." Dryhurst, a San Francisco-based artist, says something like the corporate Blu just wouldn't cut it — He says.
"Blu cigarettes are the Coca-Cola of this culture. They went out of fashion."
COMMENTARY: Electronic cigarettes or 'e-cigs' are battery-operated devices that deliver nicotine via inhaled vapour.
Removable cartridges contain glycerol or propylene glycol, flavouring, and varying amounts
of nicotine (including 0mg). The nicotine solution is vaporized by an atomizer which is
activated by 'drawing' on the device or pressing a button. 'Smoking' an electronic cigarette
(e-cigarette) mimics the act of smoking and is often referred to as 'vaping'.
Since their introduction into the market in 2004 by the Ruyan Group (later re-named
Dragonite) in China, e-cigarettes have gained popularity worldwide. The e-cigarette market
is rapidly growing and highly fragmented with over 100 different brands. Its estimated
revenue at retail in the US in May 2012 was over $250 million and is expected to double by
the end of 2012. Global e-cigarette revenues at the end of 2013 were estimated at $1.5 billion.
Product sophistication has also improved during this time, arguably augmenting nicotine
delivery. 'Tank' systems have been introduced which contain a fluid-filled reservoir rather
than a saturated foam (traditional non-tank cartridges). Users can mix their own 'liquid'
choosing from a range of flavours and strengths to refill cartridges. Some e-cigarettes (e.g.
the Super & Mini kits from TECC) are moving to 'cartomizers' in which the cartridge and
atomizer are combined, allegedly resulting in a more efficient and tastier vape. Finally, since
different voltages affect the vaping experience, variable voltage are a recent power control
device that allow users to connect a range of atomizing devices and control the voltage that
is applied to the atomizer.
Courtesy of an article dated February 25, 2014 appearing in The Verge